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May 09, 2007
Employees Getting the Job Done--On Their Terms

By Lynda A. Rizzo, J.D.

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What if there were no set work hours? What if the 9 to 5, Monday through Friday work schedule was completely abolished? What if your employees could leave work at any time for any reason? What if all meetings were optional? And what if employees were not negatively judged by their peers or managers for actually taking advantage of this approach to work?

This is the type of the workplace touted by Liz Beckius and Marissa Plume, both of Culture RX, during a presentation at WorldatWork's 2007 Total Rewards Conference in Orlando htis week. It is clear that individuals want to improve the quality of their work and personal lives so that they feel energized and ready to work instead of approaching their jobs with dread. Presenteeism and the accompanying lack of productivity are prominent problems in the workplace, and Culture RX's approach to work, called the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), may be the way to fix it.

ROWE is a model for the workplace in which "each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want as long as the work gets done." Employees are given complete autonomy and control over their work and personal lives. As the presenters pointed out, many demands are placed on individuals in their work and personal lives, yet employees have very little control over how they spend their time. While these daily demands will never go away, employers can help their employees better deal with them by handing them the reins and trusting them to get the work done.

Many employers may believe that they are flexible and that they are placing trust in their employees to do their jobs. Yet "flexible" work arrangements do not always translate in real life, and flexibility is often limited. For instance, employees that take advantage of flexible work arrangements may experience a career trade off. This is illustrated in a situation in which an employee that works flexible hours to take care of family issues may be seen as not as committed to their jobs. Flexibility may also be limited to certain employees. For example, an employer may implement a summer hours policy, yet only some employees may be eligible for the program.

Beckius and Plume identified three issues in the traditional workplace that, in their opinion, need to be changed.

  • Judgment. Employees often criticize their coworkers based on traditional workplace ideals. For instance, employees may disparage their colleagues for coming in late, leaving early, taking extended lunches, or taking vacation. Employees also often believe that it is unfair when employees who do not put in "face time" are promoted.
  • Time. Employers commonly reward employees for how much they work rather than the actual results. This can lead employees to waste time at work rather than strive for excellence.
  • Beliefs. Traditional beliefs about how work gets done are largely based on tradition. Culture RX deems such ideas as "sludge." Sludge is any negative language used to judge or place guilt or stress on employees. Examples of sludge include statements such as: "Ten o'clock and you're just getting in? Wish I had your job"; "Women with kids should go part time"; or "Leaving early?"

ROWE is a change in the entire mindset of an organization, they said. Under the ROWE model, employees would be rewarded for achieving goals and results rather than for putting in mere face time. The theory is that this will motivate employees to focus more on results and perhaps root out the employees for whom a particular job may not be a good fit. Employees are more apt to collaborate and communicate with each other since all members of a team are working on their own schedules.

The basic principle behind ROWE is trust, according to Beckius and Plume. Employers must trust their employees to get the work done, with the understanding on the part of employees that they will be evaluated based on the outcome. An important part of this is to make goals clear to employees so that they know exactly what is expected of them.

Beckius and Plume discussed ROWE results at Best Buy, one of their firm's major clients. Seventy-five percent of Best Buy's corporate workforce has migrated to the ROWE concept. Since the migration, Best Buy has seen higher retention and dramatically lower voluntary turnover, and productivity has increased by 35 percent, they said.

Beckius and Plume said that ROWE is achieved over time, emphasizing that management must be ready to embrace the concept, even if there is some initial hesitance and chaos.

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